A bumper festive/new decade edition gets underway in appropriately jolly spirit, as Grace Dent finds something “really quite magical” going on in Patrick Powell’s seventh floor Stratford eyrie.
The “sterile,” “Scandic” marketing materials may have hinted at a dour and depressing dining experience, but in reality the “brilliant” kitchen is turning out “elegant yet hearty, jolly and wholly delicious dinners.” It’s the little details that really sell it, like the house soda bread — possibly “the most sumptuous in London”; or the “heavenly” brioche that accompanies artichoke velouté; or a side of pink fir potatoes with chives and sweet-and-sour onion — “an orgasmic hit of pickle vinegar, soft spud and creamy, crunchy caramelised onion ring.”
More substantial fare — like an “adorable” and “perfectly judged” monkfish dish with pumpkin, or a “sticky” warm treacle cake paired with a “highly likable” caramelised pastry ice-cream — are just as successful, with everything delivered by an “upbeat and flawless” front of house. This time of year can be awash with bankrupt wellness initiatives and dubious nutrition plans, and Allegra gleefully flies in the face of it all: “This is food that seeks to make you fat, and hooray for that.”
Those abstaining from Allegra’s pleasures but still looking for a little pomp and circumstance while observing Veganuary could probably do worse than make the pilgrimage to St James’s, where William Sitwell finds a more than passable vegan tasting menu courtesy of San Carlo chef Aldo Zilli.
Raw mushrooms with pan carasau and white truffle is “a beautifully assembled plate of texture and seasoning”; a “warming” dish of lentils and spelt serves to “fill a gap” more than adequately, with “flashes of crisp deep-fried sage leaves” adding “melody” to “this autumnal tune.” Spaghetti with asparagus may involve some fairly “naughty” out-of-season imported produce, but the pasta is “beautifully, boldly al dente”, boosted further with “a drizzle of deeply rich and unusually fresh-tasting olive oil.” And if dessert — a vegan meringue with blackberries, strawberries, raspberries and a hot strawberry sauce — is “despairingly unsuccessful,” the space is at least a “convivial oasis.” This is “near-perfect vegan-pandering,” in a month that will no doubt see a lot more of it.
Those in search of more casual, less ascetically plant-based fare have already been piling through the doors at Bubala, which receives yet another vote of confidence in the form of a Jay Rayner thumbs-up.
Plainly, this is a kitchen that “has never heard the phrase ‘enough already.’” Seared cabbage with hazelnuts and pomegranate is “delightfully messy”; romanesco with smoked tomato sauce is “another strong and satisfying mess”; confit potato latkes, if slightly misleadingly named, are “great,” with Aleppo chilli adding “an encouraging kick.” The only real “letdown” comes in the form of dessert. Or rather, its absence: the date and tangerine ice cream offered may be “brilliant,” but Rayner thinks Bubala is crying out for the “syrup-soaked loveliness” and “friable pastries” on offer at Middle Eastern icon Honey & Co. Fix that, and there’s no reason it can’t go on to have a career as long and illustrious as the Warren Street institution. Fingers crossed, because this is a restaurant that “deserves to last.”
The mysterious vicissitudes of hyper-monied taste will determine whether Mayfair rainforest Amazonico has got what it takes to stay the course — with nobody any the wiser after a perplexed shrug from Jimi Famurewa.
It’s not like the sheer “scale” of the place “doesn’t impress.” Take in “the clubby, glowing bar, the vast stretches of panelled, faintly Inca wood, the crackling live fire in the gigantic observation tank of a kitchen, and the thick, guffawing hordes of fur-clad women and heavy-watched, yacht-tanned men” and it’s clear that it is, ahem: A Lot.
But then take a sip of a “ludicrous” peacock spritz “with the rough flavour profile of alcoholic Um Bongo,” or notice the “illusion-shattering cheapo sign above the toilets,” and it’s easy to wonder whether there is “quite enough here to justify all the hype.” The food, to be fair, “is mostly better than the disastrous, culinary wildfire you might imagine”: hamachi tiradito arrives in a “tingling, utterly slurpable passionfruit marinade”; an Aymara palmito salad delivers a “face-slap of salty-sweetness”; two “violently charred” rump steaks are “adroitly salted, flavoursome and not overly hampered by a sawdusty, accompanying ‘farofa’ crumb.” On the flipside, humitas are “bland” and the yuca fries are the sort of thing “that make you crave some sort of specialist police force for crimes against under-seasoning.”
Elsewhere, the menu strays towards the delightfully trashy, from chicken tequeños filled with a “magnificently grubby, chip shop-style brown mystery goo” to “gratifyingly sticky and boozy” chunks of six-hour rotisserie pineapple served “with coconut sorbet and the heavy hint of a 1970s dinner party.” In truth, Amazónico’s “secret” is “to offer wealthy people a glitzy alibi to enjoy quite junky, unsophisticated pleasures.” That may make it hard to “justify the precipitous prices or current scrum for tables,” and it won’t sound like a good time to everyone. But “the native tribes of Mayfair do things differently. And, like it or not, this is the new king of their particular jungle.”
Davies and Brook / The Grill at The Dorchester
If Daniel Humm wasn’t already aware that the Brits did restaurant criticism differently from his former home in New York’s concrete jungle, he certainly is now — after Giles Coren takes withering exception to some signature Make It Nice flourishes at Davies and Brook.
Port tongs might be a sensible way of going about opening a bottle of wine whose knackered ancient cork might not survive a good old-fashioned screw, but inflicted upon “a perfectly ordinary bottle of Côtes du Rhône” it’s cause for little more than “dismay”: The utensils come across more like “the sort of sterile, cauterizing scissor one might need to apply in the attempted circumcision of a rhino.” The food, too, is big on “pointlessly” theatrical flourishes, and only sometimes delivers: raw scallop comes with some “wonderful” warm bread; lobster with squash bisque is “very good.” But an aubergine starter is “oversweet” and “dingy”; caviar is served in a warm squash “for no reason on earth”; and the legendary duck dish of Eleven Madison Park fame is “perfectly awful,” its crust of coriander seeds, cumin seeds, and Sichuan peppercorns coming on like “something dredged through spicy cat litter.”
The hotel-adjacent dining is better at The Dorchester, where 26 year-old Tom Booton is producing some “wonderful” cooking, from the “deliciously savoury” black pudding that accompanies the house sourdough to a “very, very good,” if “unseasonal” combination of Jerusalem artichoke, truffle, and globe artichoke and a “truly exceptional” dish of “beautifully golden and crunchy” sweetbreads with lentils and celeriac — “properly, properly wonderful.” The contrast with Davies and Brook couldn’t be clearer: Where one room tells the story of “a hugely talented young chef and team breathing ebullient, squeaky-cheeked new life into a room that is learning to be fun again,” the other is “just so … not where we are right now.”
For reference, where we are right now probably looks a lot more like Silo, the zero-waste Brighton export in Hackney Wick that must surely feature high up on any list of the capital’s hottest restaurants. Marina O’Loughlin pronounced the south coast original “the future” back in 2015, and five years later this feels like an astute piece of prognostication.
But as the “beautiful,” “vast-windowed” space overlooking the River Lea makes clear, “the ambition here is a lot loftier than mere worthiness.” The food reinforces the point: potatoes with kale and miso are “bloody gorgeous,” an assemblage of normally “plebeian” veg rendered “rich,” “surprising,” and “edifying.” Beetroot with ricotta, sourdough tamari, Mexican marigold oil, shoyu, and molasses constitutes “a powerhouse of bright, sparky flavours”; Jerusalem artichokes come together with Cashel blue cheese and cabbage kraut to form “the world’s most glorious, cobnutty, perfumed baked potatoes with cheese.”
In fact, “nothing fails to impress,” as chef Doug McMaster and co “wreak preternatural deliciousness out of the most unlikely components,” delivering food that is as “complex, multilayered and sophisticated as any high-end swankpot, but with an almost living freshness and vibrancy.” Sure, it may be “the sort of place that causes furious outbreaks of chuntering from the sort of people who don’t like to look much further than the end of their noses.” But that’s just “too bad” for them: “If there’s going to be any kind of future for us all,” O’Loughlin firmly hopes “it looks a lot like this one.”
Tim Hayward puts the bow on this year’s hamper with another positive verdict, thrilling to Seabird at the Hoxton Hotel in Southwark.
The views are “ridiculously beautiful,” but the real surprise — given how rarely altitude and quality combine in restaurants — is that the food is “astonishingly good.” Razor clams arrive “spanking fresh, sliced into chunks and lightly dressed in something citrusy”; a showering of coriander adds a “shockingly fresh,” “fulfilling” accent to clams served in their own broth; a whole grilled John Dory is … Well, “brilliant is too weak a word.” Also notable is a side of papas arrugadas, whose accompanying dipping sauce is “superfluous” to some carbs that already approach “perfection.” Oh and there’s also Manchego cheesecake and bola de Berlim: “doughnut things pumped full of salted caramel, crema catalana and some kind of chocolate-and-hazelnut balm.” It is, in short, a “great menu,” twinned with a kitchen that has “obviously got all the skills to deliver it well.” The result is something nigh-on miraculous: “proper, old-school rooftop-restaurant magic.”